ALLENDALE, N.J. -- A suicide-prevention measure named for a Northern Highlands Regional High School graduate who killed herself in 2014 became law in New Jersey on Monday.
Signed by Gov. Christie, the “Madison Holleran Suicide Prevention Act” requires colleges to provide 24/7 suicide prevention assistance from trained mental health professionals.
“It is crucial to have skilled experts prepared to identify at-risk students and provide communication to help them cope with their challenges, feelings and anxiety,” said Assemblymen Scott T. Rumana (R— Bergen, Passaic, Morris, and Essex), one of the bill's co-sponsors.
“Appropriate intervention can be a life-saver for young people who feel stuck in a dark place with no way out," Rumana said. "The loss of any promising young life to suicide is a tragedy beyond words, and these devastating cases happen far too often in the pressure-filled environments of our colleges and universities.”
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death on college campuses, claiming more lives than all medical illnesses combined, experts report.
Madison, a 19-year-old Northern Highlands Regional High School track standout, was battling depression while attending the University of Pennsylvania — where she double majored and ran track — when she leaped to her death from the top of a parking garage in Philadelphia’s Center City on Jan. 17, 2014.
“It is difficult to identify students who are at risk. There may be no obvious signs that a young person is struggling, depressed or contemplating suicide,” said co-sponsor David C. Russo (R— Bergen, Passaic, Morris, and Essex). “They can appear happy and full of life, and that’s what makes the tragedy so heartbreaking and the need for trained professionals so vital.
"Ensuring that mental health resources are readily available on campus will help save young lives from a desperate, irreversible mistake.”
State Sen. Kevin O’Toole (R-Bergen, Passaic, Morris, Essex) thanked "the Holleran family for their invaluable input and to Governor Christie for recognizing the critical need for this legislation.
“Although we cannot erase the pain of losing a child to suicide, we can prevent the future loss of life by providing college students who are struggling right now with access to lifesaving support, 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said.
Also championing the bill were Ed Modica – one of Madison's former teachers -- and local suicide prevention advocate Pam Philipp.
“NJ has set the example for other states to follow,” said Dr. Kelly Posner Gerstenhaber, director of the Columbia Lighthouse Project.
“Our research shows that asking someone if they are thinking of suicide can save a life, and now students in NJ will have professionals who they can reach out to in times of crisis," she said.
"Suicide is the number one cause of death for adolescent girls across the world and the second leading cause in 10-24 year-olds," Posner Gerstenhaber added. "But it’s preventable, so this new law should be applauded.”